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New shrimp farm starts operations on Rota (July 17, 2008)

A new shrimp farm on Rota began raising its first crustacean crop ever Thursday with the aide of staff from Northern Marianas College, a debut that comes as lawmakers and local business leaders are eying the aquaculture industry as a prospective economic boon for the Commonwealth.

The new farm's opening comes after a landmark aquaculture conference on Saipan last week aimed at spurring the development of new businesses, and as legislators are weighing a bill to establish import restrictions on Rota to safeguard future aquaculture operations against disease.

Aquaculture is a multi-million dollar business according to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Worldwide aquaculture production nets an estimated $70 billion annually with significant potential for growth in the U.S. market, NOAA says.

Owned by Taga Diversified Products LLC, the new farm has already released its first batch of shrimp larvae into tanks after their arrival on a flight from Guam. The farm's first harvest, according to NMC aquaculture specialist Michael Ogo, who was on hand there Thursday to provide technical assistance, could be ready by December.

“Christmas shrimp, just in time for the holidays,” he said with a laugh during a phone interview, adding the farm, with a staff of 4, could produce up to 100,000 shrimp in each crop.

With one shrimp farm already seeing early success on Saipan and another planned on Tinian, Ogo added that aquaculture could eventually become a significant industry in the Commonwealth.

“We're certainly moving in that direction,” Ogo said. “We could one day have shrimp farms on all three of those islands.”

Guam and Rota are the new farm's primary targets for marketing its shrimp crops, according to Vincent Hocog, one of the farm's owners. Hocog is hopeful, given the economic downturn much of the Commonwealth has seen in recent years, that shrimp farming could be a booming business in the future.

“We do hope business will move in that direction with the economy and how that is going,” Hocog said. In addition, Hocog thanked NMC's Cooperative Research Extension and Education Service program, an outreach service the college operates, for its assistance with launching the farm.

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